Artistic Discernment

02.05.11

This morning I woke up to my nieces and nephews watching How to Train Your Dragon. I've seen the movie before and know it's a delightful show with a creative plot and great special effects. I could tell the kids were enjoying it as well because I could hear laughter and comments as they reacted to what they were watching.

Then I realized that I have witnessed these kids reacting in the same way when watching a cheap, badly written cartoon called Babar. The kind of show that parents would not enjoy watching with their children since it's so exhaustingly simple and boring.

To a trained eye, it's clear that films like How to Train Your Dragon take millions of dollars, top notch script writers, and a team of 3D artists to create the entertainment you are enjoying. But a cartoon like Babar was probably thrown together in less that a week just to put some extra cash in some guy's bank account.

This is just one example of the type of behavior I recognize in every day people on a daily basis. Being a graphic designer and a photographer I am often praised for work that only took me 5 minutes to complete more than I am for a project that took 2 months to finish, and every time it baffles me. How can someone not recognize the difference between something that is beautiful and something that is simply okay?

I am reminded of a scene from a Seinfeld episode. Elaine Benes receives a very generous compliment. A man tells her she is "Gorgeous" and Elaine is extremely flattered. Later on in the episode, the two of them visit a baby who, according to everyone who sees it, is hideously ugly. Kramer even flips out after glancing at the face for only a moment. But when this man sees the baby, he states that the baby is "Gorgeous". Elaine is shocked and even insulted, wondering if this man finds her attractive at all since his compliment to the baby was the same one he gave her. Elaine is clearly more attractive than the ugly baby, but this man gave the same praise to both of them.

You could argue that when bad things are praised it is simply because feelings are being spared, but in many cases, the artist is not even there to to be injured. Many people simply cannot discern the difference between good work and bad work and I wonder how someone could function without that ability?

If you cannot tell the difference between a professional photo in a magazine and a fuzzy one with bad lighting and red eye, how can you tell the difference between a dirty room or a clean room, a char-broiled steak and a Hungry Man TV dinner, or even a selfish action and a good deed?

Recognizing that one thing is beautiful and another is not is a gift I am very thankful for. I used to think that everyone on this Earth was blessed with that gift, but every day examples prove I'm wrong. Perhaps it is this ability more than any other that makes me an artist. An artist can recognize when their work is not good and can therefore work harder to make something beautiful.

It is frustrating though, that most people who see your finished product won't know whether it's beautiful or not. Now the question is, can you tell the difference?

Article written by Shelly Allen.
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TAGS: photography, "How to Train Your Dragon", ability, art, artist, babar, baby, bad, beautiful, benes, discern, discernment, dragon, Elaine, episode, good, gorgeous, Hamptons, hathaway, how, Seinfeild, SeinField, shelly, train

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